I’ll start off by saying that this book is not for the faint-hearted. It was both beautiful and terrifying and it took me a few days to get over reading it.
Nutshell blurb: Onyesonwu is Ewu – a product of rape as a form of ethnic cleansing. Her name means ‘Who Fears Death’ and she discovers that she has magical abilities. This is the story of her journey to find the person who is trying to murder her.
There are some heavy subjects in this book. Ones that certainly shouldn’t be ignored but are very difficult to read.
Like many women, the threat of rape is something that terrifies me. I can read books where people are dismembered horribly or eaten by zombies, but this is one subject I really have a difficult time reading about. The story begins with Onyesonwu as an adult and since it was her mom that was raped, I kind of thought that we would get away without reading about it in detail. Except that there are these things in books called flashbacks. Yeah.
It would have been cowardly for Ms. Okorafor to not write about it but it still made me squeamish.
The topic of female circumcision plays heavily in the story as well.
Why did I keep reading it? you might ask.
It’s a damn good book, is why. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are interesting. I didn’t connect as well as I’d like with the main character. She was moody, willful and sometimes not very nice but I think that the same could probably be said about me sometimes. She had a difficult time growing up as Ewu so I imagine that would have an effect on someone’s personality.
It was also a different experience for me reading about issues in a novel that I’ve only ever read about in the news. I don’t live in fear of soldiers invading my village and harming me nor is there any threat of FGM for me. Reading about these topics, even though it’s fiction, gave me some frame of reference for them. What we read in the news is very sterile with emotion taken out of it. To feel the terror from a character’s point of view who has had to deal with these issues is quite powerful. It makes it seem more real when I think that women in the world are actually going through these things and that it’s just part of their lives.
The story takes place in a futuristic Africa. The first image that actually popped into my head when I read that it was a dystopian story that takes place in a desert is this:
It couldn’t be more different, though. There are some references to recording devices and computers but there’s also magic involved. Other than that, it didn’t feel very futuristic. I’m not complaining, though. It was unlike anything I’ve ever read and I was mesmerised.
As I mentioned, Onyesonwu had to get used to having magical powers. One of her abilities was that she could shapeshift. She was able to turn herself into different animals and birds. When she changed shape, she took on the characteristics of the animal that she became. I thought that was a nice touch and it was these types of details that made this story so enjoyable for me.
The ending felt a bit rushed, but other than that I absolutely loved it. I’m not sure about its re-readability factor, but it was an amazing experience.